Former U.S. Senator Bill Bradley sponsored the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA) when it was passed into law in 1992. Bradley knew a little something about sports. He was a basketball star at Princeton University, an Olympic gold medalist and won two NBA championships with the New York Knicks.
This week the U.S. Supreme Court struck down PASPA opening the door, nationwide, to betting on sporting events. PAPSA worked like this — it didn’t regulate gambling because that would have opened sports betting to places other than Las Vegas. The law didn’t outlaw gambling that would have closed down Las Vegas. What Congress did was say that state legislatures that hadn’t already legalized gambling could not enact sports betting legislation in the future.
The Supreme Court ruled that barring state legislatures from legalizing sports betting amounted to an unconstitutional commandeering of the state legislatures. Justice Samuel Alito wrote, “The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make.”
In an interview with NorthJersey.com Bradley said, “I regret the ruling. I think the court ignored the impact that the ruling will have on sports in America, and values you learn from sports. I mean, they’ve turned every basketball player, football player and baseball player into a roulette chip.”
With the exception of Las Vegas sports betting has always been conducted in the shadows — and professional athletes have at times crossed to the dark side. From Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose in baseball, to Heisman Trophy winner Paul Horning and All-Pro Alex Karras in football, professional athletes and college athletes have paid the price for gambling.
Experts suggest that illegal betting in the United States is a $150 billion business. To put that figure in perspective, in 2017 Major League Baseball saw gross revenues surpass the $10 billion mark for the first time.
According to research by UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research, legal sports betting in Nevada totaled nearly $5 billion last year, led by football — both college and professional — which accounted for $1.76 billion.
Will legal gambling lead to corruption? Professional sports are highly regulated and closely scrutinized. Technology is so sophisticated that betting action is monitored in real time to identify potential spikes in irregular betting patterns.
Professional athletes who are making millions of dollars are not likely to jeopardize that wealth for a chunk of money on the side. However, college athletes are more vulnerable. The college athlete will not share in the revenue of increased viewership or possible “integrity fees,” that may be paid to the NCAA by each state authorizing sports betting.
“College sports is the one realm where corrupters can influence athletes, because they’re not paid market rate,” Ryan Rodenberg, a sports law professor at Florida State University, told The Washington Post.
There was the Tulane University and Boston College basketball point shaving sandals of the 1970s and 1980s and University of Toledo football player Quinton Broussard who pleaded guilty to fumbling on purpose in a 2005 bowl game in exchange for $500.
Ironically, the entities who stand to benefit the most from legalized sports betting are the very entities that sued New Jersey to prevent sports wagering which resulted in the Supreme Court decision — the NFL, MLB, NBA and the NHL.
The American Gaming Association conducted research for the NFL in 2016 and found that adults who bet on NFL games watched 19 more games during the 2015 season than adults who did not bet.
With potentially millions of more fans betting on games it is estimated that the number of NFL regular season viewers would jump from 40 million to 57 million. Advertising costs will soar and the NFL will cash in.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book The Executioner’s Toll, 2010 was released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino.